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Chelsea make bad big-money transfers – and Romelu Lukaku might just prove it

Chelsea
(Image credit: Getty)

Romelu Lukaku returning to Chelsea was as much of a banker in football as you were likely to get. The youngest overseas star to net 100 goals in the Premier League went away to Italy, became a better forward and then joined the European champions. Surely, you could have got evens on him netting 15+ goals when he moved back to west London – and now look.

Sure, this disagreement could be a bump in the road but it doesn't bode well. Yet, some will tell you that he was always, obviously, going to be a bad signing. Manchester United fans seem to have recognised this pattern of behaviour, with many un-shocked by Big Rom's outburst. Sky Sports' Gary Neville claimed early in the Chelsea vs Liverpool game that he was unsurprised about Lukaku, a player he felt to be "unprofessional" while at his former club.

And now, that nine-figure transfer fee – which was testament to the Belgian's age, incredible goal record and almost certainty of delivering in England – hangs heavy around the neck of Chelsea. In hindsight, throwing £100m to a cash-strapped Inter for a player who flopped in Manchester… feels a little reckless.

When Roman Abramovich first moored his yacht on the Thames, the Blues acquired this reputation as big spenders. Success followed, and now when Chelsea shell out top dollar for names, rivals cower, afraid, fearing that this superclub will quash them with their superstars. But maybe this isn't the image that suits them anymore.

A look through Chelsea's biggest-ever signings is more of a rogue gallery than a hall of fame. Lukaku sits a-top, with Kai Havertz the last player to break the transfer record when he arrived from Bayer Leverkusen. Chelsea fans may tell you publicly that the Champions League final-winning goal was worth every penny of the £72m. Privately, the jury is still out.

Before that, unanimous failure Kepa Arrizabalaga held the crown. Alvaro Morata, Christian Pulisic and Fernando Torres complete Chelsea's biggest six signings – and all three have underwhelming records. Jorginho, Timo Werner, Ben Chilwell and Mateo Kovacic (signed out of necessity in a transfer ban) are next – some hits, some misses – before the archetypal big-money Blues flop, Andriy Shevchenko. 

Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoue Bakayoko – arguably the only two members of respective title-winning minnow sides who looked dreadful post-transfer – are notable faces in the top 20 signings. Michy Batshuayi and Hakim Ziyech both cost over £35m, before more successful Blues stars such as Michael Essien, Diego Costa and Didier Drogba start appearing in the list. 

Since they last won the title in 2017, Chelsea have sustained success in spite of their big spending. Not because of it. 

Kepa's modest replacement, Edouard Mendy, is proof of that – and so are academy starlets Mason Mount, Reece James and Andreas Christensen. Olivier Giroud and Pedro were shrewd signings that proved invaluable plan Bs on the way to an FA Cup and a Europa League. Cesc Fabregas was a snip at £25m – and decisive in two titles; N'Golo Kante a steal at just over £30m and key to every trophy since his arrival.

Chelsea

(Image credit: Future)

Thibaut Courtois, Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill, combined, cost £22m. Nemanja Matic and Marcos Alonso were both around £20m. It's fair to say that Chelsea didn't overpay for any of Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, Willian, David Luiz (the first time, at least), Antonio Rudiger, Juan Mata or Oscar – all signed for between £25m and £35m. 

How many of Chelsea's signings over £40m were worth the money paid for them? Now compare them to the likes of Ruben Dias, Raheem Sterling, Kyle Walker, Riyad Mahrez, Alisson and Virgil van Dijk from Manchester City and Liverpool, the two clubs to have won league titles since Chelsea last won one.

Maybe that's harsh. Maybe it's an unfair correlation and maybe Chelsea have had bad luck. Romelu Lukaku may well turn things around at Stamford Bridge and become £100m well spent, after all. Havertz is still young too, of course – and it's not as if Jack Grealish and Naby Keita have been outstanding. Every club makes big-money mistakes. 

But equally, perhaps the narrative needs to change on Chelsea – especially if Lukaku doesn't turn things around. For all their might in the transfer market, it's the riches of Cobham academy, the shrewdness of their scouting network and the genius of managers finding tactical solutions that have enabled them to be successful – far more so than Roman's riches.

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Mark White

Mark White has been a staff writer on FourFourTwo since joining in January 2020, writing pieces for both online and the magazine. He is a keen player of the Football Manager series and creates Twitter accounts for his Fantasy Premier League team every year, before losing interest in his team every September.